With pretty much all things in life, you have to know when to call in the experts. Modifying your 4×4 is no exception. After years of experience – some positive, some negative – of doing things myself, relying on friends, using my regular mechanic, and trying some different ‘4×4’ shops, I know that finding the right 4×4 and Off-Road shop is an absolute must! For all but the most basic mods, I highly recommend you have your rig worked on by a reputable, dedicated 4×4 and Off-Road shop.
You may not realize it, but off-road vehicles are niche, purpose built machines, and unless you’ve got a dedicated trail rig, or have the luxury of wheeling right in your backyard, we ask A LOT of our multi, or dual-purpose rigs. They take us to, and from work every day. Certainly a mundane, often overlooked accomplishment, but not to be taken for granted. (How else are you going to make the extra scratch necessary for additional upgrades???) They take us, and our families on long road-trips, to travel hockey games, family camping, or to other important vacations and destinations.
We expect them to be reliable. We expect them to be safe. We expect them to be comfortable, and easy to drive. We expect all of this whether we’re putting along the scenic byways, or jetting down the highway at 80 – 90mph.
Finally, and unless you’re building a mall crawler (not that there’s anything wrong with that…), we expect them to really perform in the dirt. Rock crawling. Hill climbs. Mud holes. Traversing those notches and off-camber sections. Bombing through the back-country or over the sand.
Yeah, that’s a long list of high expectations, and lofty goals; easily more than what’s expected out of most other vehicles on the road. Like I’ve pointed out before, there’s also more than a few competing goals on that list. It’s a lot to think about when you start to modify your rig, especially when talking about mods that are going to impact handling, drive-ability, comfort, possibly reliability, and possibly safety.
Personally, I’ve acquired an impressive collection of tools, the know-how to use them and quite a bit of mechanical experience over the last nine years. It’s been personally rewarding, and I could bore you with stories of rebuilding the entire top end of my 408 Stroker, installing hyrdoboost brakes, twin-stick shifters, a suspension lift, body, lift, bumpers sliders, electrical upgrades, etc. etc. I’m also extremely detail oriented, patient (when needed), and can follow directions. Yet, I’m still nowhere near as good, or as knowledgeable as someone who, for a living, day-in, and day-out, works on 4×4’s modified for off-road use.
Additionally, the majority of my knowledge and expertise is focused on the 1966 – 1977 Early Ford Bronco. While the general concepts are certainly transferable, I won’t my way around a JK, nor will I know all of the JK specific tips and tricks as well as the JK expert at a good 4×4 shop.
Now, while your local mechanic or tire chain / auto care shop could probably complete the base install, I doubt they will have the equipment, know-how or the experience to flex-out each wheel, individually, both at full-stuff, and full-droop, to check for things like suspension bind, driveline bind, or brake line bind, and proper tire clearance. Out on the trails, 2 ½ hours by highway away from home is not the time to find out your shop cut corners, or didn’t think you wanted this stuff installed for more than just the look.
Likewise, can your local mechanic or tire chain / auto care shop correctly mount and balance large, heavy, over-sized off-road tires? (Is that on a Road Force machine?) Are they going to know some JK’s suffer bent front axles even with stock tires? That’s an important thing to check, and possibly correct before installing that awesome new lift.
Finally, and whether it’s for your off road rig or something else in your stable, always beware the parts changer. Always seek out a true diagnostic mechanic. That’s the person who will seek to understand and provide guidance based on what you want, why you want it and how you will actually use it. Likewise, that’s the person who will chase the true root cause as opposed to swapping costly parts in and out until they find the problem.
Bottom Line: When it’s time to install that suspension lift, those big tires, lockers and gears, or even something that appears simple, like a bumper, you’re better off leaving it to the Pro’s.